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Olympic-Class Pool Slated for Completion in June 1995

By Vipul Bhushan
Contributing Editor

A new Olympic-class swimming pool, the centerpiece of the three-stage Central Athletic Facility expansion, has moved one step closer to becoming a reality. Last Tuesday, the athletics department visiting committee expressed enthusiasm for the idea, a key step toward clearing the way for its final approval. Construction of the pool could be completed as early as 1995.

The new L-shaped swimming pool, to be located between the Student Center and the Johnson Athletic Center, will be 50 meters long with an adjoining diving well. A movable bulkhead will be able to divide the pool into sections so that many groups can use it at once, and movable floor bottoms will be able to accommodate children who need shallow water as well as swimmers requiring more depth to dive from starting blocks.

The new facility, the third phase of a master plan for campus athletics conceived in the mid-1970s, will tie together the resources in Johnson, the DuPont Gymnasium, and the DuPont Athletic Center. As part of the project, Rockwell Cage, which was built from a pair of World War II vintage surplus Navy hangars, and the Briggs Field House will be demolished. Construction of the new three-story building is expected to cost $55.7 million.

The Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation Visiting Committee gave the athletics facility proposal an "enthusiastic endorsement," Director of Athletics Royce N. Flippin Jr. said.

Simha also noted that the "administration has always been supportive of the athletics program." The warm reception this phase of the Central Athletics Facility received makes it likely that the plans will proceed to fruition.

Demand for pool high

Director of Planning O. Robert Simha MCP '57 said the number of people needing athletic facilities on the west side of campus will greatly increase in the coming years, as more students will be housed there. Plans for the eventual addition of new housing for 1,200 undergraduates around Vassar Street and 1,000 graduate students on "the other side of the railroad tracks" mean that the new swimming pool "plays a central role in all of our planning," Simha said.

About 20 students attended the visiting committee's meeting to express their support for the second pool.

Gregory V. Shank '94, a member of the water polo team and an MIT Athletic Association representative, expressed his desire for centralized, first-rate athletic facilities. "We [the water polo team] lose our competitive edge" by practicing in the small Alumni Pool, he said, and likened it to forcing a basketball team to always practice half-court for full court games.

The Alumni Pool, opened in 1940, has a large and varied clientele, including varsity and club teams, researchers conducting experiments in the water, children in various programs, students in aquatics classes, and the increasingly large contingent of recreational swimmers squeezing a swim into a busy day, Benedick said. In addition to absorbing the present demand, he expressed the importance of designing a facility which is "flexible to grow into the 21st century."

The Alumni Pool will eventually be refurbished and will pick up the heavy casual user demand, Simha said. He noted that MIT has traditionally focused primarily on "maximum participation" by members of the MIT community rather than on the promotion of intercollegiate and other organized sports teams.

John A. Benedick, head swimming and water polo coach, said that even though the Alumni Pool is open to the MIT community for at least 13 hours a day, many people are deterred from swimming there by the crowds and because the time set aside for recreational swimming does not fit into their schedules.

"People need a place [where] they can exercise when they have a free moment," he said. The new pool could be available to the MIT public all day nine months of the year and still be able to accommodate all the competitive aquatic teams, he said.

Money remains a hurdle

The consensus among speakers at the visiting committee meeting was to proceed with the first stage of the plan and build the pool and adjoining locker rooms at a cost of $15.4 million.

Flippin said there "has been a stated intention to commit a major leadership gift to make the project a reality." Shank reported that an alumnus has pledged $5 million toward construction of the facility and said that $12 million will be needed altogether by the end of June in order for the plan to proceed on schedule.

Vice President Constantine B. Simonides pointed out that despite the overwhelming success of the Campaign for the Future, the money raised has been earmarked for other uses. However, he agreed that the administration views the plan for the new pool as viable.

Flippin was optimistic that the remainder of the money would be raised through other gifts. If this money is raised by June, the pool should be ready for use by June 1995, according to Simha. Committee chairman Howard W. Johnson said that because of the recession, the climate for new construction is very favorable.